In the book Confessions of Saint Augustine, translated by Garry Wills, what are the main points, perspectives, and angles discussed in Book VIII?

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jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Book VIII of the Confessions, Augustine finally converts, and this book recounts what moves him to take the final step toward conversion. As the book begins, he says of God, "Of Thy eternal life I was now certain, though I saw it in a figure and as through a glass" (page 116). To convince himself of God's existence, he visits Simplicianus, his pious friend, to help him. At this point, Augustine no longer delights in making profits and, next to the "beauty of Thy house" such pursuits as making money seem like a "burden" to him (page 116). Simplicianus tells him about the Roman rhetorician Victorinus, who was so esteemed that he even taught Roman senators. Victorinus's conversion leads Augustine to want to emulate him. 

One of the themes of this chapter is Augustine's struggle between what he calls his "two wills...one carnal, one spiritual" (page 122). In other words, he speaks about the battle between the soul and the flesh related to his inner struggle about whether to convert. Later in this book, he visits his friend Alypius and is still debating about whether to convert. In a frenzy, Augustine beats himself and tears at his hair, and he wonders why his body can obey his mind while his spirit cannot obey what his mind wants it to do (page 129). However, this duality seems too Manichean to Augustine, so he rejects it. This touches on the theme of free will--in other words, can humans force their minds to do what they want? In a torment, Augustine hears a child from a neighboring house say to him, "Take up and read" (page 134). He thinks that God is speaking to him through the child, and he picks up the Bible and reads a verse that says "make not provision for the flesh" (page 134). He immediately converts and tells his mother that he has done so. The main point of this part of the book is that he believes God speaks to him through a child and moves him towards conversion. 

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